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'Data and technology alone aren’t the cure for the healthcare industry'

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It is crucial that all new technology introduced to healthcare settings is easy to use for staff.

The importance of technology to the healthcare sector cannot be overstated, particularly at a time when organisations are faced with the unenviable task of enhancing patient care while budgets are on the decline.

Investment therefore must enable the creation of more efficient methods of offering care, without adversely affecting the quality of treatment they receive.

Previously it was thought that technology could pose a threat to the vital nurse-patient relationship; however today it has a role to play across the industry, from diagnosing patients through to storing medical records.

Although the benefits of adoption are obvious, it’s also no secret that organisations can often find implementing new technology difficult – which is no surprise given the plethora of solutions available. The acceptance of mobile devices now allows nurses to take and store patient notes electronically; to use telephone systems that improve multi-site communication; and to use cloud computing that stores vast amounts of data and applications.

It’s important, however, that any technology ultimately improves the standard of care and fits in with an organisation’s wider strategies.

Central to improving healthcare through technology is being able to utilise valuable information or big data. Health organisations are already sitting on a mountain of data which resides in places like physician notes, CRM systems and imaging systems.

In theory, packaging this data in ways that enables nurses to evaluate patients differently should help address health issues, reduce the cost of care and improve diagnoses.

In reality, this is extremely difficult to achieve, given that the annual rate of healthcare data is growing at a rate of 40%, according to research firm IDC. Add to this the fact that healthcare data is arguably the most complex data in the world, then controlling this information suddenly becomes a problem.

Big data will shape future decision making, so it needs to be controlled, sorted and most importantly stored effectively, which unfortunately can be extremely costly.

Cloud computing services can really help reduce the burden on resources, improve patient engagement and help healthcare workers realise the many benefits of big data. Storing information in the cloud allows nurses to access patient information in real time through tablet devices, for example previous medications and any allergies will be highlighted to help ensure a correct diagnosis is given.

But crucial to successful adoption, as with all new technologies, is making them easy to use for staff. Nurses must be able to share and access digital information quickly and easily in order to help improve standards.

Google co-founder, Larry Page, recently made an ambitious remark, proclaiming that if healthcare information was opened up to data-mining it could probably save 100,000 lives next year. Saving lives obviously is something everyone within the industry strives to do, but what Page failed to acknowledge was the significance of this data being placed in the right hands.

Nurses, doctors and practitioners clearly rely on data and insight to help them make decisions; but information and technology alone aren’t the key to better healthcare.

The ability of a health worker or carer being able to ask the right questions are somewhat undervalued; people bring qualities to the medical sector which technology simply can’t match.

The key therefore to utilising the NHS’ £70m tech funding and exploiting technology’s undoubted potential to improve healthcare is to find the right balance between technology or data and human knowledge, understanding and creativity.  

John MacMillan is head of Daisy Health

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